How storage is changing the world

by Robin Harris on Wednesday, 2 December, 2015

Cheap storage is changing the world. Whether it is in the cloud, on a dash cam, or embedded in an app, cheap – as in inexpensive – storage is enabling new relationships between individuals, and with culture, power, and groups.

Facebook is the most prominent example of a storage-powered app. All apps use storage of course, but Facebook’s promise of “your photos and info forever” and the research and money they put into storage technologies, shows how vital it is to their value proposition.

But look around: storage is differentiating products all over. Office 365. Google Docs. Even storage products, such as the SanDisk Ultra+Cloud, a 64GB USB thumb drive with another 64GB of cloud storage. External disk drives are also coming packaged with cloud storage.

Wait, there’s more!
I’ve been binge watching the Marvel/Netflix production of Jessica Jones – it’s pretty great – and I noticed that it flowed differently than a TV show. In an interview with Variety, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg spelled out why:

When you’re telling a story on Netflix, the beauty of it is you have that kind of time. . . . [W]hen you’re not on a network, you don’t have to break for commercials and tell people again what they just saw five minutes ago or what they saw last week. You’re laying out a story over the course of 13 hours and you’re assuming the audience is coming with you. You can assume an intelligence from the audience. (bolding added).

Professional alarmist Nicholas Carr – author of Is Google Making Us Stupid – commented that “. . . what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” And yet millions of people are doing what they never could before: watching 13 hour (or longer: Breaking Bad, anyone?) dramas as quickly as they can.

Our ability to concentrate is doing fine. Perhaps we’re more demanding than we used to be.

Dashcams
The recently released – without audio, oddly enough – dashcam video of the police shooting of 17 year old Laquan McDonald in Chicago is showing the power of dashcams. The flash storage in a dashcam isn’t just cheap, it also is rugged enough for casual handling.

But the real storage hero is not dashcam flash storage, but the massive archives the videos get archived to. Not only do these have to be economic, they also have to pass chain of evidence legal muster.

All groups tend to circle the wagons when feeling threatened, be they doctors, lawyers, spies or cops. Oversight of police – who have extraordinary powers – has been particularly difficult, since the prosecutors who are supposed to enforce the rules often overlook abuses so they can be “tough on crime.”

The institutional oversight that hasn’t happened is being replaced by citizen oversight, with dashcams in the McDonald case providing clear evidence that not only was the young man was walking away, but that multiple police lied about what happened. And, of course, the police withheld the video for 13 months until forced by a judge. (Extra credit: read the comments on news stories about the killing for a crash course in racism.)

The StorageMojo take
Storage is the paper of the digital age. Before cheap paper made from wood pulp, newspapers were costly luxuries with dense tiny print, because rag paper was expensive. After the mass production of newsprint began, 1¢ papers aimed at the masses, with expansive pictures, started to dominate the media landscape.

If storage is the paper, video is the text. But as Marshall McLuhan noted 50 years ago, the medium is the message – and storage is today’s underlying medium.

Low-cost cloud storage – Netflix uses Amazon and Google clouds – makes it possible for millions of people to stream on-demand video. And that enables Melissa Rosenberg to tell a story in a way that just isn’t feasible on broadcast TV. Or see how a teenager died on the streets of Chicago.

Once you see how broadcast TV – larded with 20 minutes of commercials every hour – jerks the narrative around every few minutes, you can’t unsee it. As more shows are produced for streaming services old TV shows will look as odd as silent movies do to us.

And as you see the difference between what the camera saw and what the police said, you are faced with a hard fact. Either you deny, or start to accept a new truth.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Petros Koutoupis December 3, 2015 at 7:30 am

Office 265? Is that the French version? You know, the one that accommodates to their work year.

Jon Forrest December 3, 2015 at 5:32 pm

“Office 265” ->
“Office 365”

Robin Harris December 4, 2015 at 12:35 pm

OK, OK! Typo fixed!

Robin

Andy Lawrence December 9, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Lots of cheap storage presents its own challenges too. It has become cheap enough that you almost never need to throw anything away. You end up with dozens of copies of the same data on multiple devices and cloud services. You end up with a separate version of the data for every change set. Such things can cause finding, organizing, and managing all that data a nightmare.

Using your paper analogy, it is like having a library of 10+ million books where the books are in 20 different buildings and within each building most of the books are haphazardly put on any available shelf. Books on the Civil War can be found in a hundred different places. Every book can have many editions, but all editions have the same title so you have to compare them somehow to see what is different.

Computers may make it much faster to find a set of files than manually trying to find a set of books, but it can still take a very long time to check all your storage containers. An application can call the API of each container (e,g, file system volume, database, or cloud storage) but to find all the data it still has to know all the places to look and takes a lot of engineering skills to program to each API.

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